Shahar Pe’er, Israel's most successful female tennis player of all time and a torch-lighter at this year's Independence Day ceremony, has had to deal with boycotts and restrictions as a representative of Israel. In the infamous Dubai affair in 2009, the United Arab Emirates banned the 27-year-old tennis star from participating in the Dubai Tennis Championships due to her nationality; and a year later when she was permitted to play in the country, it was under stringent conditions which isolated her from the other players. But Pe’er was unphased and understanding: "I was fine with it. It wasn't a good feeling that they wouldn't let me in, but when I did go I got a lot of support from around the world and they treated me really nicely" she tells The Jerusalem Post. "They explained that it (the restrictions) was for my safety, and I respected that."
She says she's glad that she was granted a visa in 2010 and that they decided to put politics to the side: "I'm happy that I achieved that."
Pe’er is proud of both her Jewish and Israeli identities and says "she loves being at home." She views her invitation to light a torch on Independence Day as a great sign of respect, not only of her sporting achievements, but also as a person. "They (the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols) see something good about me as a person, and that I represent Israel and the Jewish people," she notes.
Pe’er started her tennis career at the age of six, and praises her coach for teaching her how to stay grounded, modest, humble, "and not get too excited." Some of her biggest achievements to date have been making it to number 11 in the world in singles ranking in 2011, winning six WTA singles titles, and reaching the quarterfinals at the 2007 Australian Open and the 2007 US Open.
"I think the most important thing is to love what you do, give a lot of yourself, work hard and know it's a long ride; it's important to know there are good times and bad times," she says, imparting words of wisdom to young aspiring athletes.
Pe’er says she is developing as a person through tennis, and believes that if she is mentally strong, she will reap good results. Her personal goal is to be the best she can in tennis and to keep enjoying her chosen profession. For her country, she dreams of a peaceful and healthy society. "We have a great country and we need to continue developing in all areas."
Read the personal stories of the other torch-lighters here:
Actress and Holocaust survivor Miriam Zohar
Head of National Student Council Gal Yosef
Tennis star Shahar Pe'er
Intel CEO Maxine Fassberg
Paralympic hero Pascal Bercowitch Military reporter Carmela Menashe
Bereaved mother Miriam Peretz
Scientist Dr. Kira Radinsky
Social activist Tali Peretz-Cohen